WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi are trying to put an optimistic face on the future of relations between India and the United States, amid lingering concerns that the close ties the two democracies once enjoyed have lost their luster.
An Oval Office meeting Tuesday with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden was to be the centerpiece of Modi’s two-day visit to the White House, where Modi was to be greeted with a formal arrival ceremony outside the West Wing upon his arrival. Monday evening, Obama hosted his Indian counterpart for a private dinner — despite the fact that Modi, a devout Hindu, was fasting.
Typically, visiting heads of state spend just a portion of a day at the White House meeting with Obama and other U.S. leaders. The rare second day of attention from Obama underscored the White House’s desire to give a warm welcome to a man who was once barred from even entering the U.S.
Now the leader of the world’s largest democracy, Modi was the top elected official in the Indian state of Gujarat more than a decade ago when religious riots there killed more than 1,000 Muslims. When Modi later requested a visa to visit the U.S., Washington said no. Modi has denied involvement in the violence.
During their talks, Obama and Modi will focus on economic growth and cooperation on security, clean energy, climate change and other issues, the White House said. They will also address regional concerns, including Afghanistan, where the U.S. is winding down its 13-year military involvement, plus U.S.-led efforts to combat Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq.
While military ties and defense trade between the two countries have grown, the economic relationship has been rockier, with Washington frustrated by India’s failure to open its economy to more foreign investment and address intellectual property complaints. Challenges with an existing civil nuclear agreement and the arrest and strip search last year of an Indian diplomat have further fraying relations.
Ahead of Modi’s visit to Washington, he was given a rock star reception at New York’s Madison Square Garden, where thousands of Indian-Americans flocked for a rare chance to see the new leader. The dazzling Bollywood-style dancers and dozens of U.S. lawmakers who took part highlighted the popular support Modi is enjoying on his first official visit to the U.S. since being elected in May.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.